A curious book. Intriguing, slightly unsettling, absorbing action, fascinating characters, nebulous. There's an almost complete lack of scene-setting,A curious book. Intriguing, slightly unsettling, absorbing action, fascinating characters, nebulous. There's an almost complete lack of scene-setting, which is both gratifying (no info-dumps) and confusing - I consider myself well-educated and well-read, but I have a somewhat sketchy knowledge of early medieval England and Europe/Near East.
The plot is overall simple (a task), but the setting, circumstances, and particularly characterization made it nearly impossible for me to predict what would happen. There is plenty of action, high on my list of factors, but no one sequence that I've gone back to reread. Many changes of viewpoint describe events and characters at perhaps unnecessary length. What turned out to be the climax of the book - and it definitely was a climax - arrived with little development or comprehension. And the long conclusion is both a wrap-up and stage-changing for the next book, without a sense of urgency.
I'm somehow left with the impression that I'm partly into a story told in episodic style, proceeding from event to event with unhurried tread, yet with enough tension that it failed to drag. I have put the sequel on my to-swap list, but I am not impatient for it to become available; an unusual attitude after immediately completing a first book. And yet I really did enjoy it, and look forward to the next book. Curious all around....more
I heard about this series from discussion on the LiveJournal community "BookFails," so I went in not expecting to be completely pleased, as interestinI heard about this series from discussion on the LiveJournal community "BookFails," so I went in not expecting to be completely pleased, as interesting as the premise was. I have to say I have pretty much zero to complain about. Okay, I can find one thing: not enough personal action. I'm not often satisfied on that point. But the overall action and combat is extraordinarily well done, in my opinion.
I tried very hard not to be too critical about period language and matters, because I did not want minor inaccuracies to disallow enjoyment of a genuinely good story. Nonetheless, again I have little to complain of. The dialogue is appropriately similar to Austen, Heyer, and Forester - affectedly historical or Dickensian and convoluted, but definitely not 20th-century. And the relatively simple language and constructions used by other characters stand out subtly.
The author takes some definite liberty with certain social conventions and expectations of the time (i.e. appropriate male and female behavior), but it is set up and explained suitably, and the protagonist reacts appropriately.
I am not going back to reread the BookFails discussions. I plan to read more of this series and do not want to refresh my memory on critical points. From what I do recall, a point of criticism was the protagonists' lack of emotional engagement and enthusiasm. If so, I can understand it, and it is consistent with the setting. Period behavior seems reserved and unemotional, and people tended to not show strong emotion around others. I will be interested to continue the series to observe this criticism.
I also hope that this good beginning does not rapidly degenerate. Varying quality is to be expected in longer series, but I do hope this one holds up well....more
**spoiler alert** This third entry in the Temaeraire series began promisingly. Still in the Far East, our protagonists received an urgent summons to r**spoiler alert** This third entry in the Temaeraire series began promisingly. Still in the Far East, our protagonists received an urgent summons to return to England by way of Turkey. Since they elected to return overland, the opening of the book was rife with possibilities of both adventure and intrigue - in a phrase, the "spy stuff" that I still adore. The prologue, in addition, introduced a deadly antagonist, and I kept reading in great anticipation of the conflict and eventual victory at the end of the book.
The overland journey was surprisingly brief, in retrospect. It was interesting, and there were adventures along the way, but nothing particularly notable. I was vaguely disappointed when they arrived in Istanbul after only a few chapters.
The time in Istanbul did not involve spy stuff so much as the worst kind of criminal activity, permitted by bureaucracy and timid diplomacy. The Gordian knot was cut, but the final adventure came with a shock that at least for me left a nasty flavor. I did not enjoy the sequence. Nor did the protagonists, of course; but surely it could have been written or plotted better. The time in China was worse for the protagonists, but while I felt for them just as much, I wasn't dragged down by it. Somehow she kept my interest up more. This part of the book lacked suspense, and without suspense, it was simply frustration.
The last half of the book I did not enjoy at all. Novik chose to enmesh her protagonists in the Prussian army shortly before their disastrous defeat by Napoleon at Jena, and to keep them in the long retreat and failure for the rest of the book. I have only the vaguest ideas of the progress of the Napoleonic Wars, but I had an inkling shortly after they arrived in Prussia, and knew for certain when the village of Jena was first mentioned. After that it was just a question of time - how long would they be stuck in this long defeat? More unforgivably, the protagonists do so little. They are little more than observers of Prussia's defeat. Their particular antagonist's work goes completely unopposed.
Still, I reserved judgment until the end. I've read many books that I did not particularly enjoy until the end, when the climax makes it all worth it and adds far more meaning. Instead, this climax felt rather flat. As a climax, it wasn't much; there was some tension, but the protagonists plotted almost too well. For the type of book I knew they wouldn't outright fail; but I do expect some serious in-spite-of-myself doubt. And in context of the book as a whole, it did not bring to closure anything but the protagonists' time in Europe. Unlike the previous two books, I did not put it down with a happy and wistful sigh.
I think the major flaw is the overall lack of suspense. The overland journey begins with a lot of suspense, but I found it failed to deliver much. Istanbul was more frustrating than exciting. Again, this is striking compared to Novik's plotting in Throne of Jade. The settings are similar - mewed up in royal/imperial quarters, denied their objectives by polite double-talking obstructionism - but although the China sequence went on much longer, I read the entire time looking forward to what would happen next. That didn't happen in Istanbul. And the last half felt like a blow-by-blow account of Valley Forge or something. (Not quite that bad - at least they were moving!) But it was just as depressing and ultimately seems pointless.
I am somewhat holding out hope that this book is (somewhat unexpectedly) going to function as a bridge. The first two were really well plotted: the first by setting up a fascinating situation within a fascinating world; and the second by taking a pivotal factor from the first and developing - and resolving - it masterfully. The antagonist introduced in this book comes from the second, and could have unified the plot; instead, the antagonist is a mostly-impersonal factor in a more nebulous plot that really isn't resolved. It left me with the feeling that Novik found her characters at loose ends, and tried to get up steam again by dragging them into the mainstream of the war. I am hoping, however, that she does have a greater plot in mind, and that Black Powder War turns out to be a building block in that plot....more
**spoiler alert** I really liked this one. I was a little leery at first, mostly because I'd read a review on Paperback Swap that was scornful because**spoiler alert** I really liked this one. I was a little leery at first, mostly because I'd read a review on Paperback Swap that was scornful because it neglects Luchare's "potential" for continued mental growth. But honestly, the story is about HIERO and the plot develops that way. I like it, and wish that Lanier had been able to continue. The setting is fascinating....more
I picked up the three books in this series on recommendations from a book community on LiveJournal. I'll just say - horror is not my cup of tea. I lovI picked up the three books in this series on recommendations from a book community on LiveJournal. I'll just say - horror is not my cup of tea. I love fantasy and action and violence to a point, but not beyond that.
Aside from my dislike for the genre (which undoubtedly tinges my review), the setting both intrigues and puzzles me. The author subscribes so heavily to the "show 'em, don't tell 'em" dictum that virtually nothing about the setting is explained. After reading/skimming all three books, I strongly suspect that these are novels of the far future, in which a highly advanced mechanized (if not computerized) civilization falls AND magic arises. Therefore certain elements, seeming anachronistic to the setting ("gadgets" and devices leftover from "the ancients," modern forensic techniques, even some speech patterns) didn't bother me too much. On the contrary, I just wish there were a bit more explanation; it could be a very fascinating world, but the stories for which it serves as the backdrop aren't my thing at all....more